When Investing in Local Search Goes Wrong
Optimising for your local region is a great way to attract targeted traffic. However, not all local search services are all that they appear.
This morning, State of Search revealed a new scam being perpetrated in the United States. Involving blackmail and subterfuge, it could easily be confused with a cold war era spy novel, however it is an altogether far simpler scam.
Essentially businesses have been busy signing up for some form of local search service. This has basically involved the creation of a Google Places profile and, one would assume, very little else. Unfortunately, as well as paying for a free profile, they have then had those accounts threatened with closure unless they can come up with some additional funds.
It sounds like a classic scam. You lure someone in with the promise of appearing in Google. You deliver some kind of result (a free Places profile). Then show them the benefit of this excellent work, before finally attempting to pull the rug away unless the poor sap pays you more.
It’s deplorable on every level. But, and this is the worst bit, it is by no means the only example and it is certainly not restricted to the U.S only.
Some companies will attempt to package this as SEO, others will simply promise you the chance to appear on Google. The end result is usually the same though. Sometimes they might attempt to make changes to your site (this will probably actually do more damage than good anyway), but quite often the £100-£250 that you cough up will go towards creating a Google Places profile.
Again, this is currently a free service (there is a suggestion that it may become paid soon), it takes a few minutes to create and is generally optimised by third party reviews, as well as the information provided in the initial description. Anybody can do this. It doesn’t take any great expertise and you certainly shouldn’t be paying any form of maintenance on it.
A Google Places profile should belong to the company and certainly shouldn’t be used as some form of bartering tool. If somebody is holding yours hostage, just let Google know, preferably through the Webmasters Forum (other webmasters will probably enjoy outing the company you used.) If you’ve paid for local search and that’s all you’ve got, end your dealings with that company and put it down as an expensive mistake.